MEET THE FILMMAKERS
Watch a behind-the-scenes video featuring Age of Champions filmmakers Christopher Rufo and Keith Ochwat:
Christopher Rufo and Keith Ochwat are co-founders of the Documentary Foundation, a California-based nonprofit dedicated to documentary production, education, and outreach. They have produced three films for PBS—Age of Champions, Roughing It, and Diamond in the Dunes—and been hailed by the New York Times for their “fascinating material” and “good eye for the unusual.”
DIRECTOR CHRISTOPHER RUFO
Christopher is the Creative Director of the Documentary Foundation and has directed three films for PBS. He graduated from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and speaks Italian, Spanish, and Chinese.
PRODUCER KEITH OCHWAT
Keith is the Managing Director of the Documentary Foundation and has produced all of the Foundation’s PBS projects. He graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and previously served as a capitol director in the California State Assembly.
Invite the filmmakers to show Age of Champions and speak at your next conference, meeting, or special event. It's a great way to engage your audience, generate media coverage about your organization, and get your community excited about health and wellness.
Their presentation weaves together thought-provoking ideas about aging and personal reflections on making Age of Champions, including why they made the film, how it changed their perspective on older adults, and how everyone can benefit from a positive attitude about aging.
Learn more about inviting the filmmakers to speak at your next event.
What inspired you to make the film?“We were at a conference for nonprofits in San Francisco and, by chance, met the woman who organizes the National Senior Olympics. When she told us about it, a lightbulb went off. The subject was perfect—diverse locations, colorful characters, exciting visual action, and a ready-made competition structure. Less than a month after that initial conversation, we set off on the road to begin shooting the film.”
How did you find the characters?“The first step in production was to send a casting call out to all 10,000 athletes that were going to compete in the Games. Mail poured in from every part of the country. We had more than 1,000 competitors sending us bios, photos, and their life stories. We went through all of the profiles and a few stood out immediately: Roger the 100-year-old tennis player, Adolph the 86-year-old pole vaulting cattle rancher, two brothers that , and these incredible basketball-playing grandmothers with a record of 165-3. Once we read about these people, we knew we had to make the film.”
What is the message of the film?“The message of the film is simple: no matter your age or physical ability, you can become more active, healthier, and happier. Maybe you won’t be pole vaulting, but we can all challenge ourselves and the people around us to set the bar a little higher. It’s a message that crosses generations and gives us a positive example for how we can interact with loved ones of different ages. You might see your parents or grandparents in the film. You might see yourself. There’s really something for everyone.”
Can you tell me more about the Senior Olympics?“The Senior Games only started in 1987. Today, there are more than 300,000 people who compete in local, state, and national Senior Games. I think it’s very important to remember this is something that wasn’t even considered a possibility less than 30 years ago and is now giving hundreds of thousands of older people something to strive for and a sense of purpose. And as the baby boomers start to hit their 60s and 70s, there will be a greater and greater demand for these kind of activities that challenge older people and help create goals. As a society, it will be more and more important to think of fun and creative ways to engage older people and give them opportunities for participation, whether it’s health and fitness, the arts, or volunteer work in the community.”
Are there any older people in your life that have inspired you?“I have a grandfather who’s 92-years-old and plays tennis every day and a grandmother who’s 85-years-old and is extremely spunky. She walks, keeps active with her reading, and is involved in politics. You can occasionally find her protesting at city council meetings. They’re both inspirational and really enjoyed watching Age of Champions. What’s special about the film is that the inspiration seems to go both ways. Older people who have seen the film are always saying that they’re inspired that we’re honoring the older generation. It’s one of the most satisfying parts of having made the film.”
What was the most surprising thing in making the film?“People have this idea that senior athletes are cute and it’s great that they’re out there trying. But these people are actually phenomenal competitors and extremely skilled at their sports. I’ll tell you a story that’s a bit embarrassing, but illustrates this point. After a break from shooting with 100-year-old tennis player Roger Gentilhomme, he and his 85-year-old doubles partnered challenged me and the director to a friendly match. At first, we thought we’d take it easy on them—they had a combined age advantage of 135 years. But once we got out onto the court, they beat us! What they lacked in speed and mobility, they made up for in placement, slices, and trick shots. The lesson is simple: never judge someone on their age. They’ll surprise you.”
How does the film relate to the larger social issue of aging?“When the United States declared its independence in 1776, the average life expectancy for Americans was 35 years. Today, it’s more than doubled to 78 years, which is the fastest increase in life expectancy in human history, and expected to continue accelerating throughout this century. In the United States, we now have more than 10,000 centenarians. So the issue of aging is only going to become more important and the athletes in the film are pioneering a new way of living after retirement. You don’t have to sit in the rocking chair. You can be active and fully participate in the world into your 80s, 90s, and even 100s. They’re lighting a new path for older people.”
How did making the film change your perspective on older people?“Making the film deepened my respect and admiration for the Greatest Generation. People like Adolph, Earl, John, and Roger made it through the Depression, fought to keep us free in World War II, and led the country through the struggle for Civil Rights. But what’s even more inspirational is that all of the characters in the film are still looking forward to the future and achieving new dreams. They have an unwavering conviction that the best in life still lies ahead of them. Despite the tolls of age, they are continuously striving to participate in the next competition or break the next record. They challenge us all to buck convention and never give up in our search for greatness.”
What are the secrets to healthy aging you learned from the characters?“There are three principles the characters have followed to stay active and vibrant into old age. First, the basics: eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, manage stress, and avoid bad habits like alcohol and cigarettes. The second key is family and community. None of the athletes could have accomplished what they have without a loving and supporting family. Their children are their biggest cheerleads and give them the emotional and logistical support to keep them going and keep them at the top of their game. Third, and perhaps most importantly, is having a sense of purpose and goals for the future. It can be sports, the arts, volunteering, business, activism—anything that gets you going every morning with a sense of purpose.“
How can people share the film with their community?“Right now, more than 1,000 nonprofits, businesses, and community organizations are using the film to start a positive discussion about aging, health, and wellness. We’ve put together a package called the Age of Champions Screening Kit, which includes everything an organization will need to show the film and lead a discussion. We’ve had some great success stories. For example, a senior living community in Oklahoma City showed the film and a 94-year-old woman was so inspired she set the goal of living without her walker for an entire day each week—and she’s kept it up. It’s very inspiring for us as the filmmakers to watch Age of Champions make an impact and give professionals who work with seniors every day a resource they can use to improve the health and wellbeing of people in their communities.”
Do you have any resources for individuals to start becoming more active?“We’ve partnered with organizations including AARP, Silver Sneakers, and the National Institute on Aging to provide resources for people who watch the film and want to become more active or inspire seniors in their family to become more active. On our website, if you purchase a DVD, it comes with a free 120-page exercise guide, tip sheets on common illnesses for seniors, and a mini-guide on motivating seniors in your family to start an exercise routine. We want the story of Age of Champions to entertain and inspire you. Then, after you watch the film, we want you to be able to lead a discussion about healthy aging with your family and make positive changes in your lives. We’ve already had some great success stories. For example, A 55-year-old woman recently showed the film to her elderly father who had given up on exercise—by the end of the film, her father was doing jumping jacks in the living room. This is the kind of impact the film can have on your life.”
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SPECIAL EDITION DVD - $25
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